One of my greatest joys in my professional life is to see the growth of my students as they gain competence and acquire new abilities. Recently FrankCarlo sent me the following speech that he wrote and presented where he chronicles his journey from dependence to independence  shows the incredible growth in important things such as thinking critically, embracing challenge, and living responsibly. Enjoy!

Gaining Independence
by FrankCarlo Mills

Over the course of my recent years, I thought that it would be prudent to focus upon a certain thing with my Graduation by Exhibition (GBE): independence, the one thing that I was missing during my high school years, and the one thing that I’ve worked the hardest to achieve this year out of everything else. It’s hard to believe, though, that I picked “independence” as my theme, because I started out needing other people’s help.

In fact, I remember when I couldn’t read or tie my own shoes, and I had terrible handwriting. Back then, I thought I would never be able to do anything which I repeatedly failed to do, IMG_3930an idea that has dogged me for a longer time than I’m willing to admit, and I also felt, later in life when I could do those things, that I was behind in my high school classes due to the higher standards and the immense amount of work, especially during my first senior year.

But now, I’m confident that I can live on my own: I’ve mastered reading and writing, and all the basic necessities of life, and I have had part of the college experience through Grand Canyon University. Having my own room, being entrusted with my own laundry, and being responsible for my own duties—I’ve done all of these and become used to them through that one trip. It’s gotten me ready for college, and although I can certainly say that there is some room for improvement both in my college and life strategies, I am extremely close to my true goal of complete independence.

So how does “independence” relate to GBEs?

This was a question with an easy answer for me. In meeting the different Expected School-wide Learning Results (ESLR), the different requirements for graduation, I found that each and every one is a step towards independence.

Things like “thinking critically”, “embracing challenge”, and “living responsibly” were exact requirements for living on one’s own. To be independent, it required the ESLRs. I needed to embrace my challenge, live responsibly, and imagine the possibilities of my future, if I wanted to become truly independent, self-reliable, and self-made, by myself and for myself.

Thus, I feel that it is only natural in connecting both my overall theme and the ESLRs, and that made creating this very easy. However, it still took a lot of work to finish, and I am proud to say that I prefer it as such.

The first ESLR is “Embrace Challenge,” and to demonstrate it I embraced the challenge of independence.

There were many different things that I had to tackle in my pursuit of this—such as picking out a college and a major, living on my own during a trip to a college, and becoming able to drive. But I think the biggest challenge I’ve had to tangle with was taking responsibility and handling my time by myself so that I could get my work done, a challenge I have had my successes and failures with.

Many challenges I’ve had to overcome were simple things from my childhood, such as bad handwriting and being unable to tie my own shoes. These are the ones that seem silly when talking about them. Others are more recent and modern, and seem much harder by comparison, like having work from an AP Calculus class and receiving an assignment from your employer on top of that, or having three different tests total three days in a row. These are the ones that I think are dead serious, both during and after their time, because they had real-world consequences.

However, I think that each of my challenges had its own solution, its own response, necessary to dealing with it—and that each of those responses clicked in together to achieve the same goal, and I slowly realized that I was performing a plan of action that had formed itself through nature. This plan of action had me doing a lot of different things, some related, some unrelated, including visiting colleges, identifying what I was good at, practicing and taking lessons for driving, going to GCU for practice on college life and living on my own, and taking a fifth year to work on my life skills other than grades.

The end result of all those actions was getting to CSU Stanislaus, a college I was well-prepared for, becoming completely able to drive, and finally making sure I leave no loose ends in Venture Academy—all resulting in turn in independence. I may not be exactly at the end of my journey, where I am truly an adult, but I am on the home stretch. College may not be the end of the road, but it is most certainly the part of the road that leads to the end in the quickest way.

The second ESLR, “thinking critically”, is also a part of independence.

To accomplish independence, I’ve had to evaluate and apply my skills in a variety of places, such as my writing expertise being used to get a job at the Lodi News Sentinel, or my organizational abilities being put to work as a TA for Mrs. Fogg.

I’ve also had to form opinions, such as when I had to choose my college and major out of many different options. The choices were hard, but I still made them, and now I have CSU Stanislaus as my college of choice and communications as my major. However, Forming my own opinions has been something that I’ve always had doubts and reservations about doing up until now, due to the fact that I was always wondering about what would have happened if I had chosen differently whenever I made my own decision until recently, but I think that I had to in becoming independent, so I decided to pursue a single goal and not give up until I got it, because conventional methods for achievement didn’t quite seem to catch my fancy. It may not have been what everyone else did, but it got me to where I am now: on the road to a specific college and major which I look forward to.

To be independent, one must live responsibly.

I’ve had to do several things that were quite painstaking for this goal, things that I knew that I had to do no matter how hard they were. These included making healthy lifestyle choices, identifying certain challenges for me at my time at GCU and practicing living on my own in terms of hygiene, dieting, laundry, and time management, and partaking in community service as required by Venture, something I did by participating in more than one Coastal Clean-Up and a brief volunteer stint at the World of Wonders science museum, as well as doing it outside of Venture for its own sake, such as the time I volunteered at my brother’s school’s Spaghetti Dinner and the time I helped my cousin pour cement behind a school for his Boy Scouts project. I found that being responsible for yourself meant as a rule that there was certain work that you really had to do or else you would suffer plenty of consequences, but no one was forcing you to work, which made it hard for me to get to work sometimes.

I found it hard to find anything independent about “playing passionately,” but later I realized that I needed passion if I wanted to be independent. I think that “playing passionately” does not always mean having fun or doing as you please, but rather taking on different opportunities and challenges with the right amount of enthusiasm.

I have met many different opportunities and duties while “playing to learn” and “learning to play,” such as being on the soccer team for two seasons and staying on for a third as my Spanish Teacher and Soccer Coach, Mr. Meza’s assistant, joining a backpacking trip over the summer, and once even studying Tae Kwon Do and reaching the coveted black belt in my early life, until going to Venture gave me new duties to replace the old ones.

However, I found that “playing passionately” also meant that I had to balance my life between work, school, and relaxing—and, during different points in my life, I had to add and remove different pieces to that combination, from a long-running art class to my time in the soccer team until the end of this year’s season to the more current gym membership from my recent years, to my current extracurricular difficulty of planning my post-graduation pool party.

“Learning infinitely” is something that comes naturally to us all, as corny as that sounds, especially when it comes toward working for independence. In fact, I have learned much throughout my entire life, and, again, as corny or cliché as it sounds, I cannot recall a week that ended without me learning something new—I think that’s a fact that’s true of everyone.

But, I digress. To discuss learning infinitely in a manner relative to my goal of independence, I have learned how to drive, worked on communication and self-regulation with my therapist, and taken a fifth year at Venture Academy to work on “Independence” and other life skills beyond the classroom.

With all I have done, I sometimes wonder if it’s even possible for me to look to the future and see much compared to looking behind. However, even I need to imagine the possibilities for my future, and I’ve already started by choosing California State University Stanislaus as my college of choice and Communications as my major.

Even this GBE would be an example of me “imagining possibilities” and working towards the future I have planned out, just like everything I’ve been doing in my recent years, from the duties of my senior year to the driving lessons to the multiple times I’ve struggled on this project, trying to think of just what to say when creating this GBE. Every time I read it, I imagined how it would sound when speaking it, and was always looking for something I could change whenever I felt that it wasn’t truly ready to be spoken without sounding confusing. This skill of imagining possibilities has helped me a lot, but I think it’s better to do things flat out than think of them.

I don’t stop at the mind to imagine possibilities and wait until I can do anything about them, I give them flesh and form and I achieve them the minute I get the idea.

Apart from bragging about my own achievements and what I’ve done by myself, I also have to give credit to other people, who were very important in shaping me on my road to independence. Before a child becomes independent, he must rely on his parents, and if I didn’t have mine behind me I do not know if I could have found the confidence to take the next step, for if I tried and failed there would be nothing to catch me if I fell. I’m sure you must all realize the inherent contradiction in that—to be independent, I needed dependence, which was one of my most valued tools. But when you think about it, human beings can never be really one hundred percent independent—we need each other because that’s the way our society works.

But who was it that helped me? I think that my mother was probably one of the most influential people in my life, because she helped me organize when I couldn’t, helped me come to terms with my problems, let me address those problems on my own, and gave me the motivation to constantly keep going. As for my father, he was the one that kept me honest and had me doing wholesome activities, as well as things that I would probably never have the desire to do on my own. Without him, I would never have had humility, the willingness to put one’s desires aside for what was necessary for my own good and the good of others, or the drive to work. And although his parenting seemed rough to me, as I imagine is the case with all fathers, it was what motivated me on those black days when I just couldn’t find the drive to get my work done.

For this, I thank him. Other people I wish to thank are my teachers: Ms. Fugazi for teaching me even further humility than my dad did and teaching me responsibility, Mrs. Bidwell for being my Teacher of Record, Mr. Meza for introducing me to the sport of soccer, a move I would never have taken on my own, and Mrs. Fogg for helping me understand what I really wanted out of my future.

In the end, everything I have done has led up to independence.

It is something that everyone needs, but was also something that I think I value and appreciate more than most others who take it for granted, because I took longer to achieve it than most others—indeed, independence is something that I am taking quite an amount of time to achieve even now.

But I have come quite far, and as a result have achieved independence to a degree where I almost feel completely independent, although I know that I haven’t completely reached my goal in its entirety yet. Creating this GBE—and everything I’ve done to achieve independence in general—has taken a lot of time, and I have had periods where I just didn’t want to work because of that.

I would be lying if I said that these periods didn’t result in me spending a lot of time just in the planning phase of this entire project, and even more time spent while I was creating it. I took my time until the last possible minute, making slight-of-note edits to my entire presentation as I practiced and taking from morning until noon and from noon until afternoon to finish my final version. But despite all that, I always finish my work, no matter what happens or how much I do not want to do it.

I told myself, when I started this GBE, that even if it takes me forever (and it did not), I would reach independence and complete this work as proof, that I, FrankCarlo Mills, have done something by standing on my own two feet, no matter how much I felt like I couldn’t do it and no matter what I had to struggle with to do so! And I have finished it now, and I speak these words before you now.

Because of that, I have but one thing to ask of you: Do you believe that I have achieved my goal?

For more information about the work we do with teens and young adults, please contact us at info@rdiconnect.com

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